Understanding Children’s Mental Health
Children’s Mental Health
Children’s Mental Health
Children’s brains are growing rapidly during infancy and the first years of life, making this is a critical period of their psychosocial and emotional development. During this time, emotional well-being is closely tied to relationships with caregivers and the families. Good social and emotional health, and healthy relationships with parents and caregivers, are essential for a child’s learning and development.
What is Children’s Mental Health?
A child’s mental health is made up of their:
- Temperament (their characteristics at birth – easy-going, strong-willed, fussy)
- Biological traits
- Thoughts and thinking patterns (negative, positive, etc)
- Self-worth or how they view themselves
- Social and emotional health
While the first two listed are mostly set when children are infants, a child’s thoughts, self-worth, and social-emotional health are impacted greatly by their environment, especially in their early years of life.
Social-Emotional Health is Essential for a Child’s Learning and Development
A child’s brain grows rapidly during infancy and the first years of life. During these years, children learn a great deal about relationships, routines and empathy.
- When young children are exploring their environment and community, they are learning what is expected of them, and what they can expect of others.
- The ways that their culture views raising children influences their development.
- Children learn about relationships, solving problems, and dealing with their emotions in their environment, whether it’s done through teachable moments or by observing the adults around them.
Stress, Resilience, and ACEs
Although stress is a normal part of life, when a child is exposed to ACEs, like abuse or neglect, it can have a significant impact on behavior, emotional development, mental and physical health. If not properly addressed, the impact can be lifelong.
From preschool through adolescence, children begin to develop resilience factors. These are a child’s ability to handle and overcome:
- Changes in environment (school, home, social groups)
While periods of struggle and difficulty are expected, how a child responds to those struggles and how the struggle impacts their daily life determines a “bump” in the road versus a mental health concern. Daily habits that can be affected include:
- Eating and sleeping habits
- Interactions with family, peers, and authority figures
- Academic performance
- Personal hygiene
- The ability to handle stress
These factors are like indicator lights on a car’s “dashboard” – if more than one is problematic for a period of time, it may be a signal that they are struggling with their mood, emotions, or behavior.
Early Interventions and Early Detection
When early intervention starts with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, it will greatly impact an improvement in the child’s future functioning. Early detection means being aware of the indicators and addressing the concerns as soon as possible. Early detection can:
- Identify children’s emotional or behavioral challenges before a crisis occurs.
- Assist in getting these youths the appropriate services and support.
- Early detection is likely to prevent more long-term or significant problems such as poor health, poor academic performance, truancy, involvement with juvenile justice authorities, and mental health crises.
Early interventions are critical. This includes:
- Seeking out resources when your children are young.
- Checking out books from your local library on positive parenting practices.
- Parenting websites that have tips and strategies to address your child’s emotional and behavioral health.
- Reaching out for support.
- Talking to your child’s pediatrician, care provider, or school teacher about your concerns and whether they share those same concerns.
- Getting involved in a parent support group or home-visiting program such as Parents as Teachers.
Challenges that can Impact a Child’s Mental Health
Stressful situations and ACEs can impact their mental health. These include:
- Changes in a child’s primary support group
- If a child is not receiving a consistent, stable, nurturing caregiver, it may impact their stability as well.
- Death of a family member, maternal health issues, ie. postpartum depression, anxiety
- Early Childhood Trauma
- This includes experiencing physical or sexual abuse, being neglected, witnessing domestic violence, or experiencing emotional abuse. For more information on these categories, check out the ACEs study.
- When trauma is experienced, this can alter brain functioning and children may function less effectively, especially socially, emotionally, and with respect to attention and memory
- If untreated and unaddressed, behavior changes may persist into adolescence – early intervention is critical
How Many Children Have Mental Health Challenges?
Statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the American Psychological Association:
- According to the CDC, one in six U.S. children aged 2–8 years (17.4%) had a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder.
- A study from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment shows 25 percent of Wyandotte County residents have experienced three or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).
The Family Conservancy works with child care programs, providers and parents to create environments that support good mental health.
- If you have a child who needs help with the issues described above, call 913-742-4357 or visit our counseling page.
- If you are a child care provider interested in learning more about our early childhood mental health training and support services, please visit our early educators page.